Wednesday, July 1, 2009

FHC Day 2 report

Clear skies and welcome sunshine as the fleet passed over the Leleuvia startline at 09:05 Hrs.
Seas were calm and following winds of 5 knots or so as the Challengers soon rounded the reef heading to the north. However counter currents and softening breezes were to dominate the 14 nm leg to Naigani Island.
Several teams made a bee line to the east seeking some protection from the adverse currents along the Moturiki coastline however local teams who ran over the Smith Reefs and their extensions a mile offshore were to secure the early lead. Aaron Worral, winner of the previous days leg, was third from last with Bob Engwirda another 50 metres behind him.
Event Chairman Grahame 'Fish' Southwick was the first to clear the northern tip of Moturiki and 2 miles later was looking pretty with a 500 metre lead on the fleet half way into the first leg heading north and to the east of the rum line. However a group of 4 boats split off slightly left of track attracted by the rain clouds on the mainland coast. As the winds started to gently swing to the left the winds dropped off for the bulk of the fleet whilst the breakaway group, comprising local sailors Matt Shephard & Altaire Mandell and Kavena & Mika together with Australians Nicole & Kerli Corlette plus Aaron Worral and Bradley 'Little Dog' Wilson were able to maintain their progress albeit in softer breezes.
Race Officer Jerry Rollin and his team were aware that the fleet would be struggling to sail the full 30 nm course around Naigani Island but could find no way to reduce the length of the course within the SI's and the first opportunity to shorten was at the gate to the west of the island.
At the gate the winds dropped off and even swang to the North East briefly and the sunny skies of the morning had already clouded over. As Worral and Wilson approached the gate flag 'Sierra' was hoisted together with two long sound signals indicating a shortened course as the leaders maintained momentum and ghosted through the gate at 13:59:37 in a NE wind whilst the other three of the breakaway group sat in doldrums just 100 metres from the finish.
After what must have been an agonizing 13 minutes eventually the wind filled in from the south allowing the Corlettes to claim second place just over half a minute ahead of Kaveni who was in turn only 2 seconds ahead of Shephard - and Fish was still a speck on the horizon in 5th place...
It was almost half an hour later before he crossed the line, still 500 metres ahead of the rest of the main fleet. With the breezes picking up quickly from a cloud system closing in from the south the final 6 boats all finished within 150 seconds of each other after 5 hours and 40 minutes of racing whilst 4 retirees had already called it a day and turned round before reaching the gate.
And then came the best sail of the day!!! Winds picked up to 16-18 knots as the frontal system passed and the sailors were twin wire beating for home but with only 3 hours of daylight and 14 nm to go. Torrential downpour as the front passed over and then the winds shut down leaving the last few floundering before they were taken under tow with the last two making it back to Leleuvia around 30 minutes after sunset.
It continued drizzling late into the night but this could not dampen the spirits of the Challengers as Fish had promised everyone it would be sunny again tomorrow!

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